Since the start of the new year, thousands of New Jerseyans charged with crimes have faced a new system that avoids cash bail. The stakes set by the massive overhaul are high — for defendants, victims of crime and for advocates of criminal justice reform, reports N.J. Advance Media. How is it working out? The top state prosecutor, its lead public defender and the administrator of the state court system hailed the first six weeks as a success. All three conceded some turbulence along the way but said the courts would adjust as challenges arise. Gov. Chris Christie, legislative leaders and civil liberties advocates have found common ground endorsing the overhaul. The state largely replaced cash bail with a system in which judges use an algorithm and other tools to assess whether a defendant presents a flight risk or danger to the community when ruling whether to jail them awaiting trial.
There are rumblings of dissent among local police and prosecutors. Some have taken to social media to blame bail reform for the release of criminal defendants they wanted to keep behind bars. County governments complain about the new system’s costs, accusing the state of imposing an unfunded mandate. Supporters contend the changes will mean fewer low-level defendants languish in county jails just because they can’t post bail, which could lead to savings. Some estimates put the price tag for the overhaul in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Bail bondsmen, financially hobbled by the switch and claiming lawmakers duped the public about how the system would work, are waging a last-ditch effort to roll it back. Privately, reform supporters worry that just one high-profile case in which a criminal released under the new system does the unthinkable could torpedo public opinion and flip New Jersey from a national model to a cautionary tale.